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2023 season saw ’Cats take a giant step

Farragut, HVA end Oak Ridge’s season Saturday

  • Oak Ridge’s Jacob Franklin and his side-arm delivery made a relief appearance in Saturday’s region championship game at Carson-Newman University - Tony Cox

  • Oak Ridge senior Eli Baldwin got hemmed in by the Hardin Valley Academy infield when he went a base too far in Friday’s win over the Hawks. - Tony Cox

Oak Ridge High School’s baseball team saw its season come to an end Saturday at the Region 2-4A Tournament in Jefferson, but not before it played for a region championship.

Still, the region tournament was bittersweet for the Wildcats, who upset District 4-4A regular-season and tournament champion Hardin Valley Academy Friday at Tommy Schumpert Park in Halls.

Things, however, didn’t go the Wildcats’ way Saturday at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City.

Oak Ridge (22-14) dropped an 11-1 decision to state powerhouse Farragut in the region championship contest early Saturday in Jefferson City.

But the Wildcats still had a shot to make it to the state sectionals, and they thought they had scored the tying run late, but a close play went Hardin Valley’s way. From there, the Hawks went on to score seven unanswered runs and claim an 11-3 victory and the spot in the sectional round, which opens Wednesday.

“We were in a 4-3 game with a chance to make it 4-4 and take the momentum, and we had a controversial play at the plate; either way, that went against us,” Oak Ridge Coach Travis Free said. “And from there, Hardin Valley did what good teams do and they beat us.

“I’m frustrated because it’s 36 hours after a tough loss.”

With that win, the Hawks turned the tables and avenged Friday’s opening-round loss to ORHS, which won nine of its 10 regular-season district games and claimed the regular-season title before finishing runner-up in the district tournament.

“It’s good as far as being a stepping stone for the future of our program and we’re right there,” Free said. “I’m frustrated but I’m proud of (the team). The good thing is that our guys know they can compete and that the expectations are to win, get to the regionals and get to the sectionals.

“We’re right there, but right there is a moral victory and I don’t care too much for those.”

The Wildcats found they could play with the state’s top teams, a lesson that they learned all season.

Oak Ridge proved it against Hardin Valley in a 10-6 win as it opened a 4-0 victory in the top of the first inning late Friday afternoon and promptly extended the lead to 6-0 in the second.

In the opening frame, the Wildcats grabbed the lead when Mikee Teasley came home on a groundout by Jacob Franklin, which was the second out of the inning.

The Wildcats were clutch as they added three more runs off HVA starter Carson Hoffmeister as Richie Ferreira and Jason Slay had RBI singles and Eddie Tan came up with an RBI double.

After senior Tyler Pickens retired the Hawks in order, recording two strikeouts, the Wildcats scored twice in the second off Hardin Valley reliever Micah Hoffmeister.

Pickens had an RBI single and Oak Ridge picked up another run on the play when Teasley scored on an error to make it 6-0.

The Hawks scored twice in the third and added two more in the sixth to pull to within 6-4.

In the seventh, Tan had another RBI single and Ferreira came up with a two-run double in a four-run frame to make it 10-4.

The Hawks made things interesting with two runs before Pickens notched a strikeout and fielded a popup for the last out of the game.